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Interviewing Van GoghFacebooktwitterlinkedinmail

I step to the side of his gravestone, enlivened by ivy and red flowers, and say, “Vincent, may I please speak to you a moment?”

“You may not,” says Theo, the man in the adjacent plot.

“And why not?”

“My brother’s tired of more than a century of adulation and wealth he’ll never experience. And I’m dreary of being ignored.”

“You’re always portrayed as a caring brother whose emotional and financial support enabled Vincent to work and grow.”

“That’s right. And, henceforth, I’m the only Van Gogh available to the media.”

I write Theo at the top of my notebook and say, “Very well. Have you seen the new movie At Eternity’s Gate?”


“And what do you think?”

“It’s a creative work offering much speculation.”

“What about the bar owner whose walls are covered with paintings, and he points at Vincent’s works and says they’re ugly, get them out of here now.”

“That sort of thing happened often, and the pain it caused Vincent is unimaginable.”

“I’ve read about children tormenting Vincent while he painted or walked around town.”

I imagine Theo clenching a fist below as he says, “Kids are mean to each other and crueler still to those they find vulnerable. However, I don’t believe the film’s depiction that he beats a rock-throwing runt and is then set upon by two fathers who trample him. But he certainly did exchange insults with many people, a few of whom were friendly or at least not hostile.”

Pointing at Vincent’s grave, I say, “Paul Gaugin, at the end of their time living together in Arles, tells Vincent the town’s full of ‘wicked and stupid people.’ That seems to be small town everywhere. Then Paul and Vincent quarrel and…”

“Yes, and rather than showing bloody Vincent handing his ear to a prostitute who calls the police, the filmmakers deftly reveal the face of a doctor who draws a broken line encompassing most of an ear. I like subtlety, but we shall discuss this tragic episode no more.”

“Agreed,” I say. “Afterward, in a more general sense, Vincent says he has a ‘menacing spirit’ around him and is ‘terrible (and) might do something.’”

Theo Van Gogh says, “You’ve said nothing about dozens of Vincent’s masterpieces: The Starry Night, Sunflowers, the portraits and landscapes. Didn’t you notice them?”

“Yes, they’re beautifully interspersed throughout the movie. Vincent so well captures whomever and whatever he looks at. But the movie implies he loses control and rapes an attractive female model.”

“Vincent says he doubts it but doesn’t know and neither do you nor I nor the filmmakers.”

“I’m always saddened when reminded the citizens of Arles sign a petition saying they fear Vincent and want him to leave.”

Theo pauses several seconds. “I loathe them but understand.”

“Some historians, as well as the makers of this film, believe Vincent was shot by a teenage boy.”

“I’m not persuaded by their arguments, which seem motivated by melodrama and money. Vincent long suffered from depression and mania and other illnesses, and frequently talked about dying, and harmed himself a number of times. His pain was too great. My dear brother shot himself.”

Self-Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1889

This entry was posted in Mental Health, Painters, Paul Gauguin, Suicide, Vincent Van Gogh.